How to sell in a self-service world

BY:  Dan Reynolds
December 3, 2021
9 MIN. READING

The shape of the sales process has changed, not only in the last year, but in the last 10 years. More information is available to buyers and many B2B sales organizations aren’t moving to adjust to this new sales paradigm quickly enough. They need to catch up to be competitive. Once upon a time, content was gated, pricing was quote-only, and the only route to test-driving a solution was through a sales representative. Product information, real user reviews, price points, and more can all be found with a few Google searches.

Sales guru Aaron Ross saw this shifting of power to the buyer and wrote Predictable Revenue, a formula for SaaS sales processes that directed sales departments to be divided into teams, each responsible for a different step in the buyer journey.

For years, that book has been known as “The Bible of Silicon Valley.” But times have changed, and sales processes have changed with them. Has the sales bible had its day or are we just waiting for the newest chapter to be revealed?

The transition to self-service sales

Today, B2B buyers have moved on from the fully-supported, rep-guided sales process to a new self-service environment. Speaking at the 2021 Sales Enablement Soiree, Brent Adamson, Distinguished Vice President, Advisory at Gartner, shared recent research that found that approximately 54% of millennial buyers – the rising buyer group – and 43% of all buyers prefer a seller-free sales experience even for complex solutions.  A few years ago Australian company Atlassian made news for being the only $20 billion IT company without a formal sales team, but don’t that statement fool you…their sales team was actually their very large, broad and deep, resellers. After their IPO they did take on a formal sales team, you just can’t scale without it.

Buyers have the power in the transaction process. The sellers are saying it and so are the buyers. The 2021 B2B TrustRadius report found that 57% of buyers already make purchase decisions without a single conversation with a sales employee, and 87% want at least part of their buying journey to be self-service.  The rise of self-service in all SaaS solutions is a direct response to this shift.

It’s clear that tomorrow’s self-guided B2B purchase journey is already here, but what is management and the sales leadership doing about?

What does the new sales journey mean for sales teams?

SaaS sales departments are having to rewrite the script for sales journeys. There might be some comfort in knowing that you’re not alone; many industries have had to respond to a similar shift in buyer behavior.

For example, 15-20 years ago, you spoke to a travel agent if you wanted to buy a plane ticket. Today, the idea is almost laughable; we buy our tickets online, directly from the airline website or through a third party price-checking site. Airlines had no choice but to adapt, marketing directly to consumers and adjusting the ticket purchase process to support consumer customers rather than expert travel agent intermediaries. Travel agents still exist, but primarily focus on complicated travel planning or full service VIP travel.

SaaS sales teams now need to follow in airlines’ footsteps. Trying to apply the “old” sales model to the new sales journey often adds extra friction to the sales cycle, instead of helping make it go more smoothly.

Today’s sellers are facilitators, guiding buyers past roadblocks

Part of why it’s so important for sales teams to keep up with the new buyer journey is because the need for sales people hasn’t disappeared. Prospects still need support to make a fully-informed purchase decision that doesn’t lead to buyer’s remorse, but they need it in the right ways and at the right times.

In his talk, Adamson reports that even after reading plenty of digital sales content, fully 64% of buyers can’t tell the difference between most brands’ digital experiences. This is when they seek human sales support.

To deliver the right kind of help, salespeople need to understand that the prospect was already well advanced along the road to purchase, but has hit a roadblock in their buying journey. It’s the seller’s job to remove the roadblock, not to guide the prospect back to the beginning of the road.

Modern SaaS sales could be thought of as a kind of guided meditation. As a sales representative, you’re a facilitator there to guide the prospect through the mass of online content, not to change their minds.

Lead qualification is moving

Today’s leads reach out to you after already having had numerous interactions with your company through blog posts and white papers from your website; reviews from customers on G2 and other review sites; recommendations from peers in person and on social media or professional forums; and analyst reports like those from Forrester or Gartner.

As a result, if you try to qualify a lead during that conversation, you’re actually taking them backwards in their sales process, and the chances are high that you’ll lose them entirely. Marketing does the qualifying through online content, a trend that’s reflected by the recent decisions to move SDRs and BDRs to sit with marketing instead of sales.

Salespeople should replace speed with depth

Your prospects will quickly get impatient if you start asking them questions like who else is involved in the buying decision, when you can get most of the basic qualifying information you need from some basic research using LinkedIn or other easily available tools.

The only way to bring value to a prospect who’s already read your online content is to gain a better understanding of their needs and where they are in the cycle, and that requires salespeople to ask different questions, like:

  • How would this change impact you?
  • What happens if this decision doesn’t get made?
  • What has prevented the problem from being solved?

Although sales teams will always have a goal of closing deals as quickly as possible, today’s sellers need to change focus to discovering the full potential of the account and selling the fullest possible range of products, rather than closing a smaller deal in a shorter space of time.

That in turn requires both a broader knowledge about secondary products in the suite, and a deeper understanding of the pain points and friction that the prospect is trying to resolve. The sales floor has shifted to a sales conversation that swaps speed for depth, so sales teams can surface products and solutions that better meet the needs of the potential customer.

With the right approach, even self-serve SaaS sales need sellers

With today’s prospects prioritizing a self-service buying journey and digital content upending the previously-fixed stages in the sales funnel, many of the time-honored, rigidly-defined salesperson roles have disappeared. That said, the salesperson role isn’t dead; it just needs to evolve so that salespeople meet prospects where they are in the buying cycle. It’s time for sellers to ask new questions, practice new conversations, and increase their knowledge about the product suite.To get your sales team up to speed quickly and consistently Second Nature offers an AI-powered sales coach simulation. It provides an engaging and effective way to help sales teams practice new approaches without the risk of losing a deal.

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About the author

Dan Reynolds

Dan is an Account Executive at Second Nature

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